It's Not About the Branch, Part Two

We cannot be afraid of not knowing things.  In order to be better at anything in our lives, we need to ask questions and practice - we should be trying things out, researching things, and asking questions in order to understand a concept more in depth.  Isn't that what we want to encourage in children - a desire to learn more about the world?

My point in last week's post was that the question, “Why all the branches?” is a legitimate question in the current Reggio-in-America environment.  When something happens over and over again, it is a pattern.  The suspended branch has become, for better or for worse, a pattern in Reggio Inspired schools.  

In this screenshot of the very first results of that Pinterest search (“Reggio Emilia Classroom”), there are 4 branches in 3 posts.   

There is nothing wrong with sharing visuals, looking for inspiration, and drawing inspiration for your own space.  But teacher time is precious- those minutes add up, far beyond classroom teaching.  I feel that as educators, we can be well educated about different approaches to Early Childhood Education and understand which ideas we feel work for us, rather than teachers trying to shove themselves into a single theory.  And, when we combine different ideas, we create our own recipe, and a philosophy of teaching and learning that is personalized for our center.  It takes people and things and space, and those three things combined should look infinitely different.  So, why don’t they ever look different?  Lori’s comment on my initial post mentioned an oft-quoted Amelia Gambetti comment: “Everywhere I go in this country they all look the same. Do you all order from the same catalogue?” (from “Bringing Reggio Emilia Home” by Louise Caldwell)


The environments of the schools of Reggio Emilia are stunning - I filled a large notebook on my visit there in 2009.  I am inspired by those spaces, and looking back at my frantically scribbled notes and sketches, I do find ideas that would be interesting to incorporate into a classroom.  I do not have any photographs - we were not allowed to take any - and the reason is that the Reggio Children project worries that people will simply take the visuals out of their trip to Reggio Emilia and ignore the philosophical aspects.  Rebecca New articulates this:


“...there is much about Reggio Emilia that is inspiring.  The degree of collaboration and continuity evidenced through community support, ongoing staff development, parent involvement, classroom organization, and curriculum planning and implementation has created an early childhood environment that appears optimal for adults and children alike (New, 1990).  Yet even as we ponder the means by which such a setting might be implemented in the U.S., we are challenged to reflect upon our own values and beliefs as they influence our interpretation of our roles as educators.”

-New, in The Hundred Languages of Children, p. 215-6.  


HALLELUJAH.  One of the reasons that we are drawn to the environments in Reggio Emilia is because the adults also feel at home in those spaces.  Our homes are cozy places that reflect our design interests, and our classrooms can (and should be) pleasant places for the adults and the children.  There is simply something about the design aesthetic of the learning spaces in Reggio Emilia that is appealing, and we don't just want those spaces for the children - we want them for ourselves, too.

Many people who are starting their journey learning about Reggio now are seeing a different landscape than I did a decade ago.  The internet is a mostly visual place, and a search for “Reggio Emilia” no longer brings up information about the town in Italy first, as it did ten years ago.  Much more virtual space is dedicated to sharing about the educational approach as it has been manifested in North America.. The classrooms in Reggio Emilia are really striking, and the environment, as the third teacher, is an essential piece to the puzzle:


“The visitor to any institution for young children tends to size up the messages that the space gives about the quality and care and about the educational choices that form the basis of the program.  We all tend to notice the environment and “read” its messages or meanings on the basis of our own ideas.  We can, though, improve our ability to analyze deeper layers of meaning if we observe the extent to which everyone involved is at ease and how everyone uses space itself.  We then can learn more about the relationships among children and adults who spend time there.”

-Lella Gandini, The Hundred Languages of Children, p. 136


The physical space is a key aspect, but we have to remember that there are multiple elements, and they should speak to each other.  In another online Reggio forum, I remember seeing a post where someone posted a provocation that involved playmobil people and natural materials.  Someone commented that they would NEVER use plastic materials in Reggio Emilia.  That kind of advice, that rigidity, prevents us, as early childhood educators, from doing our best.  

We are not in Reggio Emilia, and what works for your learning environment is very personal.

It does not matter what your neighbor is doing if children are safe, happy, and engaged in developmentally appropriate activities.  What works for you, your colleagues, the children, and the families?  We know that hands-on, play-based learning is optimal for children.  The minutiae of the exact things and where they are placed must be personal, though, curated and cared for by the adults and children who inhabit the space.

I am very inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach to education, and I am inspired by other ideas, too.  Studying the pedagogy of the schools of Reggio Emilia can teach all educators a big lesson in reflective practice and in making thinking and learning visible; how you put it into practice and how it looks in your setting is all up to you.

When we adopt any idea as a whole package, will it really work in a different context?